Cultural Learning: Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

Kool & the Gang would have loved Arequipa. Almost every week of the year here we could sing: “There’s a party going on right here, a celebration, to last throughout the year”. There are tons of celebrations here. Some are characterized by traditional rituals, but many share common features: music (religious, local, traditional, mariachi-type, and pop), cohetes (what my husband calls “fire crackers on steroids”), cakes, sodas, and beer, and the hora loca, the ‘crazy hour’, a time to dance, make noise and wear funny hats, masks and ties that signals the ‘nearing’ of the end of the party.

School celebrations usually involve a show of dances, skits, games, sports, and can last three or fours hours (tiring, but fun!). These include but are not limited to: beginning of the year party, end of the year party, Christmas, English day, ‘Accomplishment day’, Kindergarten week, Olympics day, Earth day, school anniversary, Mother’s day, Father’s day, and Independence day. We’ve loved watching our boys dress up in a myriad of costumes and seeing their performance improve and their stage fright decrease. Even Maya has bravely stood before all parents in her first performance this month for Mother’s day, she didn’t actually do the singing and the dancing but at least she didn’t cry! 

Community celebrations are generally religious in nature, although Justin did participate in our Neighborhood Anniversary Party once. These include but are not limited to: Fiestas de Las Cruces (happening right now in the months of May and June, there are parties throughout the city’s parks where there is a cross and sanctuary room), Virgen de Chapi celebrations (Arequipa’s most popular version of the virgin Mary is honored the first days of May, some will even participate in a night-long pilgrimage walk to Chapi, where she was sighted), Señor de los Milagros celebrations (in October many participate in various processions throughout neighborhoods and many women will wear purple gowns to symbolize a petition they have made or thanksgiving for a granted wish), Fiestas Patrias in July (with city-wide processions on the 28th, Peru’s Independence Day), Arequipa’s anniversary celebrations (all of August, especially the 15th, include fun culinary exhibitions, processions, and dance festivals), and (our favorite!) the legendary firework madness at midnight on Christmas and New Year’s day. 

amily celebrations during the major holidays, like Easter and Christmas, are usually kept within the family units. At other times, however, families will host big celebrations that include but are not limited to: parties on the day of their favorite saint or the onomastic day of a family member, quinceañeras, and, the most popular celebration of all, birthday parties for children 1 to 10 years of age. These are all very similar and include boom boxes, vast decorations, goodies and a cake, a clown who directs dancing, games and giving out party treats, a piñata, party favors, the hora loca and a full meal. 

Celebrations are, in equal measure, part of culture shock and part of our relationship-building and evangelism strategies. They can be fun, exhausting, meaningful and nerve-racking all at the same time. We are grateful for the opportunity they present to take part in the culture, bond with friends, and build trust. God has given humankind a Spirit of joy and celebration, just as we see in beloved Bible stories like David’s dancing and the prodigal son’s father’s rejoicing. We pray that, in our work here, we will learn to rejoice and participate in the celebrations that give glory to God, that He will use us as vessels and examples to redeem those which do not, and that we will daily celebrate and rejoice in God’s love for us and for the people of Arequipa.